7 Adaptogens You Should Know

In an earlier blog article, we discussed adaptogens, “super-herbs” that are believed to resist stressors of various kinds. Fans of adaptogens say that they have many benefits, ranging from fatigue fighting to energy promoting, immune system boosting, and much more. Although more scientific research is needed to demonstrate how adaptogens affect health, if what adaptogen enthusiasts believe to be true IS ultimately demonstrated in a lab, they are rife with good-for-you-ness.

There are so many adaptogens, it can be hard to know which ones to try. In the earlier article, we discussed some common adaptogens: ashwagandha, reishi, rhodiola, maca, and licorice root. In this article, we’re looking at a few other popular ones. But if you’re still uncertain about which ones to try, consider an adaptogen blend, which can be found in a powder form that you can add to smoothies, coffee, or whatever else you eat or drink throughout the day. Companies that offer adaptogen blends include Four Sigmatic and Moodbeli.

The following adaptogens have a range of possible benefits.

Cordyceps. The cordyceps fungus has a pretty incredible origin story. Britt Bunyard, the editor of Fungi Magazine, explained to NPR how Cordyceps Sinensis, which is native to the Tibetan highlands, “makes its living by getting inside a host insect [a ghost moth caterpillar] and ultimately killing and consuming it. … [Bunyard said,] ‘This caterpillar will bury itself down a couple inches into the soil. Meanwhile it doesn’t know it, but this fungus is digesting it from within and then in the spring this … tissue erupts out of the head.” Seriously! WebMD notes that cordyceps reproduces in the lab, so supplement makers can sell it—and not for the $50,000 a pound price tag that NPR lists. Cordyceps is believed to improve sex drive (NPR calls it the “Viagra of the Himalayas”), strengthen the immune system, improve athletic performance, and have anti-aging qualities, among other possible benefits.

Schisandra. The bright red berries of the schisandra plant are said to have no fewer than five flavors: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and pungent, giving the plant its Chinese name of Wu Wei Zi, or five-flavored berry. Long an element of Chinese medicine, today schisandra has an important biodiversity- and sustainability-related function in the Upper Yangtze region of China. Regarding its health benefits, WebMD notes, “The chemicals in schisandra improve liver function by stimulating enzymes (proteins that speed up biochemical reactions) in the liver and promoting liver cell growth.” Other purported uses, according to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, include the treatment of lung and gastrointestinal problems. MedicineHunter.com identifies even more possible benefits: “Several human studies show that Schisandra extract improves concentration, coordination and endurance. Schisandra helps to prevent mental fatigue and increases accuracy and quality of work. In various human clinical studies with doctors, students, soldiers and other groups, Schisandra demonstrated superior mind-sharpening powers.”

Astragalus. Another herb of traditional Chinese medicine, astragalus is used for everything from fatigue to diarrhea, heart disease, and upper respiratory infections. Memorial Sloan Kettering’s website explains that it “has immune-stimulating effects and may help to reduce side effects from chemotherapy”; additionally, “Lab and animal studies suggest astragalus and its compounds have heart-protective properties as well as blood-thinning effects.” It is also applied to the skin to speed up the healing of wounds.

Holy basil. The plant holy basil is native to India, where it has long been used in Ayurvedic medicine. It is considered sacred in Hinduism; its Hindu name, Tulsi, suggests “the incomparable one,” and it plays a significant role in Hindu traditions and mythology. WebMD describes the uses of holy basil for inflammation reduction, blood sugar lowering for people with diabetes, and much more, and notes, “Beginning research suggests that the [holy basil seed] oil can slow progression and improve survival rate in animals with certain types of cancer. Researchers think this benefit may be explained by the oil’s ability to act as an antioxidant.” In an article calling Tulsi “a herb for all reasons,” Professor Marc Cohen of RMIT University in Victoria, Australia, writes, “Like yoga, tulsi has a calming effect that leads to clarity of thought, along with a more relaxed and calm disposition.”

Asian Ginseng. Asian ginseng, or panax ginseng, is used to combat stress, increase concentration, enhance calmness, and improve energy, among other uses. WebMD says that it “is often referred to as a general well-being medication, because it affects many different systems of the body.” Asian ginseng has chemical components called ginsenosides, which have demonstrated some evidence of having anti-inflammatory functions. Like other adaptogens, Asian Ginseng has seen centuries of use in traditional medicine; it is native to northeast China and Korea.

American Ginseng. American ginseng is a different plant from panax ginseng and is thought to be the more calming of the two. Wild ginseng has been harvested in North America for international trade since the mid-1700s; a fascinating Smithsonian Magazine article chronicled its twenty-first-century role in a profitable black market. A 2010 study from Swinburne University in Melbourne “identified robust working memory enhancement following administration of American ginseng.” Other qualities that make American ginseng so appealing to wellness advocates include its possible effectiveness for lowering blood sugar and preventing flu and cold symptoms, as well as potentially reducing stress and boosting the immune system.

Siberian Ginseng. A third ginseng is Siberian ginseng, aka eleutherococcus senticosus, which, like Asian ginseng, is native to northern China, Korea, and other regions of northeast Asia. WebMD explains its origins: “It is said that years ago, the Soviet Union wanted to provide its athletes with the advantages offered by ginseng but wanted a less expensive version. So, Siberian ginseng became popular, and this is why most studies on Siberian ginseng have been done in Russia.” As with all adaptogens, more research is needed to determine the health benefits of Siberian ginseng, but it is used for athletic performance, fatigue, stress, and immune function.